Anselm seeks to explain the existence of a greatest being, i. e. God. He approaches this task not via our experience of the universe, but rather attempts to explain it solely based upon reason. Anselm attempts to prove the existence of God by providing us with a logical explanation, based upon our understanding, definition, and necessity of God. It is inconceivable for God not to exist. There is a certain nature through which everything that is exists, Anselm explains, is caused to exist by something.
Everything that is, exists by virtue of something, and nothing is able to exist through nothing. The underlying assumption here is that things do not exist through themselves for there is no need for their being. Leading to conclude that it is implausible that anything at all is able to exist because of nothing, and that nothing should exist because of something. Building upon earlier argument, Anselm concludes that “whatever is […] does not exist except through something. Since, according to him, this premise is true and since, as pointed out earlier in his argument, everything that is exists either through itself or through something, there must be one, or many, beings though which all things that are exist. Our existence and the existence of everything there is, therefore, must be explained by a virtue of a higher being, or several of them. Anselm identifies and explores several possibilities of existence of a higher being, or beings.
He points out that there may be several beings, rather than one, that are the ultimate cause of everything that exists, and presents one with his critical analysis of such idea. Anselm argues that if there is more than one of such beings then they themselves must exist either through (a) one being, (b) separately through itself, or (c) mutually through one another. If, he states, these beings exist through one supreme being, then all things that exist cannot exist through more than one being. Following this premise, Anselm concludes that all things that exist must therefore exist through this one supreme being.
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If, however, there are many beings, which exist separately and each through itself, then there must be a certain “power or property of existing through self”, by which they are able to exist. Building upon this premise, Anselm goes on to explain that it is because of this particular “power or property” that each of these beings is able to exist. Thereby concluding that these beings exist by virtue of one greater power, without which they cannot exist. Once again we are back to the same argument that only one being can exist, for plurality does not explain itself.
Lastly, a third alternative proposed by Anselm deals with beings existing mutually through one another. He argues that such thought is contrary to reason. For, it is irrational that “anything should exist through a being on which it confers existence. ” In other words, there cannot be a being that is a giver and a taker. That, which exists by its own virtue and is yet dependent on itself for existence. Taking all of the arguments and points stated above, Anselm concludes that there can only be one greatest being, i. e. God, and it is through him that everything that is exists.
If everything that is, exists by virtue of something, and nothing is able to exist through nothing, then God simply cannot be conceived not to exist. God is that, “which alone exists in the greatest and highest degree of all” and nothing greater can be conceived. For, everything that exists, exists through this greatest being, but it alone exists through itself. One aspect of Anselm’s argument that stands out in particular is a premise upon which the whole argument is based. Explicitly, “Everything that is, exists either through1 something, or through nothing.
But nothing exists through nothing. For it is altogether inconceivable that anything should not exist by virtue of something. ” This, he holds to be the self-evident truth. Once again, the underlying assumption here is that things do not exist through themselves for there is no need for their existence. Such things therefore cannot be the cause of their own existence. Therefore, it must exist by virtue of a greater being.
- S. D. Deane, (Trans. ), St. Anselm, Basic Writings (Second Ed. ), La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company, 1994.
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